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Spotlight Report

School grabs the chance to expand its footprint

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 4/21/2004

 Related stories
BC to buy diocese headquarters
Sale leaves some neighbors wary
Deal was a match for both sides
School can expand its footprint

 Text
Statement by BC, archdiocese

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The archdiocese complex

With a historic opportunity to expand the Boston College campus by almost 30 percent, university leaders say they are considering only modest plans for the land they are buying from the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, planning to use it for offices, playing fields, and parking.

Still, officials and professors say they are delighted about plans to purchase the 43 acres. With land a scarce and valuable commodity for urban universities, the $99.4 million parcel in Brighton could give BC an edge, as colleges compete ever more fiercely to build new science research labs, dormitories, and recreational amenities.

"This is a second spring," said Thomas O'Connor, a BC historian. "It ranks with the original move of Boston College from the South End to Chestnut Hill."

It is unclear what development BC may propose in the future, but officials say they don't expect the land, across the street from the main Chestnut Hill campus, to become a central part of campus heavily populated by students.

"It's not our intention to turn it into sort of a classic campus," said Jack Connors Jr., chairman of the board of trustees.

"We already have plenty of dormitory space," he said. "We don't so much have a shortage of classroom space, but a shortage of space for the administration to use as offices."

Connors said BC would probably move "back office functions" to the new property, such as the treasurer's office or the fund-raising operation. Such administrative departments would move into existing buildings, said BC spokesman Jack Dunn.

BC had already leased one archdiocesan building, St. Clement's Hall, for a decade, and its rugby club has already been practicing on the archdiocesan land, Dunn said.

The university will build new playing fields, especially for intramural and club sports, but not move any of its existing sports facilities, officials said.

"There will be no stadium with 80,000 seats," Connors said. "Our stadium will stay where it is."

To pay for the land, BC will make "a special fund-raising appeal with our alumni and friends," President William P. Leahy said at a press conference, rather than dip into the school's $1.15 billion endowment. BC also started setting aside some money when it first learned in December that the property would go on the market, Dunn said.

Before the purchase, the campus comprised 155 acres, 115 on the main Chestnut Hill campus and 40 on its Newton campus. Hemmed in by a reservoir, a cemetery, and an expensive residential area, BC has been starved for space for years. Its freshman have to be bused more than a mile from their dorms in Newton to the main campus.

Neighborhood opposition has also stymied the school's growth plans. A plan to build several new buildings ended up in an eight-year legal fight between BC and the city of Newton, which the school recently won.

But neighbors shouldn't worry about what's to come with the new land purchase, BC officials said.

"This will not be high-density use," Connors said. "I think the neighbors are going to find that a couple other bidders were talking about building high-rise residences."

Like all Boston universities, BC has to participate in the Boston Redevelopment Authority's institutional master planning process, which requires the school to keep a master plan on file with the city. Changes to the plan, such as major development on new land, require not only city approval but also neighborhood participation in any building project.

Although there is no schedule for a BRA approval process of new building plans, Leahy said, "I expect it will take several years to work all that out."

Faculty members around campus are already coming up with their own wish lists.

A new $90 million physics and biology building is already full, said physics professor Michael Naughton. Naughton believes that BC needs a new building that would allow several different sciences to work together.

He would prefer that it be on the main campus, but would be happy to see it across the street, too.

"We are busting at the seams," Naughton said. "People in the sciences would all agree: The one thing holding BC back from really reaching its potential is infrastructure."

Michael Paulson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Bombardieri can be reached at bombardieri@globe.com.


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